Five things to watch this weekend – 20-22 December

Including a Studio Ghibli classic, a sci-fi masterpiece and something to get you in the mood for The Lighthouse…

Samuel Wigley

Thunder Rock (1942)

Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Sunday, 3.30am

Thunder Rock (1942)

If you’re one of those filmgoers counting the days until the release of Robert Eggers’ maritime horror The Lighthouse in late January next year, you could hardly hope for a saltier amuse bouche than this supernatural British gem from 1942. Like Eggers’ film, it occupies itself with the tricks a mind can play during long, isolated nights spent in a remote lighthouse, with Michael Redgrave playing the former investigative journalist who, disillusioned with humanity as fascism rises across Europe, takes work manning a lonely beacon in the Great Lakes. There he begins to experience ghostly visions after becoming obsessed with a commemorative stone listing a group of immigrants who drowned 90 years previously while en route to a new life in America. Talking Pictures TV are showing it in the early hours this Sunday and the timing could hardly be better – both for The Lighthouse and for anyone ready to surrender to disillusionment.

La Jetée (1962) / Sans soleil (1983)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

La Jetée (1962)

Chris Marker’s two most famous films have often been packaged or programmed together – his 1962 sci-fi La Jetée runs just 28 minutes so fits nicely alongside the feature-length Sans soleil from 1983. Now Criterion has given them the Blu-ray treatment they so richly deserve, with his superb six-minute short Junkopia from 1981 thrown in for good measure. Both remain one-of-a-kind experiences, La Jetée comprising a succession of black-and-white still photographs that Marker uses to construct a philosophically profound time-travelling tale. Despite its diminutive length, it ranks highly among the greatest of science-fiction films – one that Terry Gilliam later remade as Twelve Monkeys (1995). Sans soleil, meanwhile, is a shape-shifting travelogue/essay film, an uncategorisable sequence of cinematic postcards and ruminations that the poet and filmmaker compiled from globetrotting in Japan, Guinea-Bissau and elsewhere. These are essential viewing for any cinephile, but let’s hope this mouth-watering new edition leads to some of Marker’s far less exposed output getting similar treatment.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Credit: © 1989 Eiko Kadono - Nibariki - GN

Continuing his magical run of animated features for Studio Ghibli, Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most enchanting offerings. It’s set in an imaginary old-world European city by the sea, where Kiki moves with her cat Jiji for a compulsory year of life experience as part of her training to become a witch. Although it’s based on a children’s book by Eiko Kadono, Miyazaki makes this rites-of-passage parable inimitably his own, getting plenty of opportunities to indulge his love of flight – whether by broomstick or zeppelin – and ensuring that every corner of Kiki’s world exudes a warmth of feeling, detail and creativity that proves irresistible. This 30-year-old fantasy classic has just been reissued as a pricey but certainly packed anniversary Blu-ray collectors’ edition, including the complete storyboards.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

This late-70s humdinger of the race-against-the-clock-to-prevent-nuclear-armageddon subgenre is less well known than it should be. The story goes that director Robert Aldrich’s bold experimentation with split screens, putting simultaneous nerve-wracking action side by side, killed the film’s potential in the days of VHS and square TVs. Happily, it’s since been restored to its proper glory for the widescreen TV era, and now finds a home on BFI Player too. Taking its title from a line in ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, Twilight’s Last Gleaming stars Burt Lancaster as the renegade USAF general who takes control of a missile silo in Montana and threatens to start World War III unless the president (Charles Durning) reveals the contents of a secret Vietnam war document. Best known for the likes of Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Aldrich maintains a formidably taut and tense 144-minute running time, at the same time offering a prickly take on patriotism and American idealism that makes for sobering post-impeachment viewing.

Rome Express (1932)

Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Sunday, 9.55am

Rome Express (1932)

Before Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), there was Rome Express. Pretty much the beginning of the line for any discussion of the train thriller, this hugely entertaining production from Gainsborough Pictures brings together an assortment of thieves, movie stars, adulterers, millionaires and blackmailers for a locomotive mystery onboard a sleeper train from Paris to Rome. Over in Hollywood in the same year, Grand Hotel gets all the props for mastering the multi-character drama, but Rome Express proves that the Brits could pull it off too, and with equal wit and flair. Set almost entirely on the train, Walter Forde’s film makes surprisingly fluid use of the moving camera to give us a dynamic experience of life onboard, as the small matter of a stolen Van Eyck painting ensures the journey is worth our while. The very funny screenplay is by future Lady Vanishes scribe Sidney Gilliat, with that film’s stuffed-shirt cricket fans foreshadowed by Gordon Harker’s overly sociable golf bore.

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